HomePostsNov 30, 2011

Loopholes and shortcuts, advances and mistakes

The age-old advice to "work smarter, not harder" applies ten-fold on the web. If you're not finding techniques and tools that help you save time and do more with less then you're missing the whole point. On top of that, you're literally wasting your life.

But "working smarter" doesn't just mean saving time, it also means doing the right thing in the beginning to save yourself pain and suffering down the line. A loophole might help you make progress but is it sustainable and what is the risk involved? A shortcut might save you a couple of hours every month but is your output lower quality because of it?

The four things below all have two sides to them: a side that works and a side that will get you into trouble. Where is the terminator line between the two? It's a big, broad grey area and the further you get, the harder it is to go back. Just make sure you experiment cautiously, always iterate, and check back often.

I start with a definition of each term so it's clear what I'm addressing. I'll tell you why it's done, where it can be helpful, and where you can get into trouble.

Purchased links

A purchased link is a link from one site to another where the linking site was paid. When you purchase a link, you're doing it for one of two reasons: you want traffic from that site or you're looking for the SEO benefits of an organic text link.

There's nothing wrong with the first case here; buying a link for traffic simply equates to advertising. There's a special step in this process, though: the link has to be "nofollow" (a special HTML attribute added to the link) or the page it goes to has to be inaccessible by search spiders. A lot of extra work but Google says so. If you're doing legitimate advertising then these steps help your site so it's worth the effort.

The other side of the coin, the "shortcut to better SEO," is buying a link for the purpose of increasing the number of pages linking to your site. I'll be the first to admit it: link-building is time-consuming and frustrating. After you've been building links for a while, buying a few - or a few hundred - seems like a great way to save time.

The problem here is that you're risking your existing (and future) search engine ranking by cutting corners. Is it more likely Google won't find out you purchased links? Yes. Is it worth risking a penalty of indeterminate length or impact? Definitely not; take it from the experts.

Instead of purchasing links (or using a service that buys them for you), offer to do something for the owner of a particular site. Write a guest post, provide them with some useful information, or, if they're local, go mow their lawn (mostly kidding). The difference is that you'll be getting a better link and one that will stick around for a lot longer.


Automation is using software to do tasks automatically when once you did them manually. If you've ever connected your Twitter to your blog, your Yelp to your Facebook, or your phone to your Flickr account, you've used automation.

There is so much about automation that I love. Every new app I sign up for has to plug into at least one other thing I'm doing online or I'm already one foot out the door. I use IFTTT to connect apps together creatively to make sure that effort expended in one place isn't lost elsewhere. I also use FeedBurner to connect blogs to Twitter, among other things. If you're not looking for ways to automate certain tasks, you're wasting a lot of time.

But there is a very distinct line between what should be automated and what should not. I don't send all my tweets to Facebook and LinkedIn, for example. Speaking of Facebook, I don't connect any of my content streams to any of my Facebook Pages. I don't sync all my contacts everywhere, I don't connect every network to every other one, and I don't use any application that helps me "get more followers, traffic, fans, etc."

As soon as you start automating tasks, you run the risk of looking/sounding like a robot (a big mistake if you're representing a brand or business) as well as making an increasing number of mistakes. Software does, more or less, what it's told. When you start over-automating, the patterns emerge quickly and it becomes clear that attention to detail is less important than a few saved minutes. A mistake made once in the beginning can propagate throughout the whole system.

Look for ways to save time and use software to your benefit but be careful of how far you go, especially if it's a human touch point. Be clear on what you're trying to accomplish and talk through the system thoroughly (and with someone else) before you put it into place. Don't confuse automation with outsourcing, talked about below.

Aggregated content

Aggregated content is media that you're getting from other, likely public, sources. It means that there is another copy out there somewhere and that you're not the first person to have it. Usually this comes in the form of RSS feeds.

There is just no substitute for original, optimized, well-written, and helpful content. It gets people talking, gets shared across the web, does well in search engines, and is fun to make. It's also incredibly time-consuming. Not many people can find the time to write an incredible blog post each month, let alone every week.

The solution is to start using content from other people. You have an audience and your audience demands to be fed so you find someone providing the content they want and connect the hose. Problem solved!

Well, not quite. We'll assume, for this example, that you have someone's permission to post this content and you're not going to run into any legal issues surrounding copyright. Even then, you're creating a copy of the original and only one of the two will win out in a search engine (Google makes an educated guess as to which one is the duplicated one). Besides that, you could just be re-displaying something your audience has seen already.

The fair, effective middle ground is . This is where you find the content your audience is likely to be interested in, filter out all the nonsense, and add your own spin to it. It's more work than just re-posting what's out there but it has the huge benefit of being very linkable, shareable, and easier to compile than a post of your own. Combine curated content with your own, original posts and you have a recipe for content success.


Outsourcing, for this purpose, means paying someone else to do something that you're fully capable of doing yourself. Outsourcing could be hiring contractors to help your clients, using an assistant to manage day-to-day tasks, or paying someone to write a blog post for you.

In my experience, the right kind of outsourcing can really free up a lot of time and focus. I have a virtual assistant that helps me stay on top of billing and income, does basic client outreach, and helps me with small tasks like entering content and creating reports. I also work with contractors who provide me with copywriting, code, and server management. Since one person is not infinitely scaleable, growth always requires finding people that can take on tasks for you.

But there are specific things I don't outsource, and advise others not to. I don't outsource social media management, particularly for small- or micro- (one person) businesses. In the same vein, I don't outsource customer service to another company. I don't outsource my marketing or my content.

For development, I'm very careful. When considering a project, both cost and quality always come into play. The quality I provide my clients is incredibly important to me so I don't hand that off with a grain of salt. Outsourcing to a low-cost group, regardless of their location, is simply a matter of getting what you pay for. In my experience, low-cost development is always bug-prone, difficult to modify, unorganized, poorly commented, and not future proof. It's a matter of paying more at the start or paying more down the road. For a small project that might not get off the ground, this might be a fine trade-off. For something you build your business on top of, it's not.

If you're in a position to contract out or outsource a part of your process, just make sure you're clear what needs to be done and how it needs to be done and communicate that clearly. Be careful who you partner with and remember that a personal recommendation is gold. Try a test period, see what happens, then move on from there.

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